A federal grand jury in Denver has indicted four suspected ecoterrorists on arson charges connected to a 1998 firebombing at a Vail ski resort that caused an estimated $12 million in damage; it was the costliest act of ecoterrorism in American history at the time.
Chelsea Gerlach, 29, Stanislas Meyerhoff, 28, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, 31, and Rebecca J. Rubin, 33, face eight counts of arson, according to the indictment handed down on May 18, 2006. Each charge is punishable by five to 20 years in prison.
The suspects, along with 11 others, have previously been indicted in connection with 17 acts of domestic terrorism claimed by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the two most active ecoterrorist movements in the U.S.
ELF claimed responsibility for the Vail arson, which included eight separate fires that destroyed three buildings and damaged four chairlifts. In its communiqué, ELF said it targeted Vail because it was expanding into the potential habitat of the endangered lynx.
In a message sent to a radio station at that time, ELF warned, “putting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated….We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded [sic] areas.”
Gerlach and Meyerhoff are currently in custody in Oregon. Gerlach, arrested in Portland, was previously charged with knocking down an 80-foot transmission tower outside Bend in December 1999. Gerlach also is named in a federal arson complaint involving a 1999 fire at Childers Meat Company in Eugene that caused more than $1 million in damage. Meyerhoff, arrested in Charlottesville, Virginia, faces charges related to several incidents. Meyerhoff allegedly co-wrote an online document titled “Setting Fire with Electrical Timers, an Earth Liberation Front Guide,” which provides operational instructions and advice. Overaker and Rubin are still at large.
Another man, William C. Rodgers, was identified by federal prosecutors as the mastermind of the Vail arson, but was never charged. He committed suicide in an Arizona jail after he was indicted in the string of attacks.
Calling themselves “The Family,” more than a dozen suspects allegedly targeted U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management wild horse facilities, meat processing companies, lumber companies and a high-tension power line among other targets in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming between 1996 and 2001, according to the Justice Department.
During the past two decades, radical environmental and animal rights groups have claimed responsibility for hundreds of crimes and acts of terrorism, including arson, bombings, vandalism and harassment, causing more than $120 million in damage. While some activists have been captured, ecoterror cells - small and loosely affiliated - are extremely difficult to identify and most attacks remain unsolved.